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Last week Mayor Danny Breen proclaimed April as National Poetry Month and that at the start of each regular meeting there would be a poetry reading.

That kicked off today with a reading by poet Matthew Hollett, who was introduced by a recorded message from City of St. John’s Poet Laureate Mary Dalton.

Hollett recited his poem North Head Trail, which will be in his upcoming poetry collection Optic Nerve, published by Brick Books.

“On a day when the waves are unfurling and the wind curls around the Battery Hotel, and the shadows of clouds are cartwheeling down the side of Signal Hill,” he recited.

Alison Dyer will be featured at next Monday’s regular council meeting.

Quick head count: Cllr Maggie Burton was the only councillor not present and Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary attended virtually.

A home-based business got Council’s approval to start up at 7 Guy Street. The business owner will be making homemade sauces from fruit and peppers, though the selling won’t be there, said Cllr Jamie Korab.

The floor area of the business is 20 m² and will operate Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. The applicant is the resident and the only employee, so no clients will be dropping by.

Bless This Mess

Next up was an application to expand a non-conforming use at 125 Airport Road.

The single detached dwelling is currently 222.96 m² and the proposal is to expand it by 5.94 m² so there can be an enclosed deck added to the front of the dwelling.

Because the home is in the Commercial Highway Zone, a single detached dwelling isn’t permitted for a discretionary use, so the applicant needs Council approval, said Cllr Korab.

One person who lives in the area sent a submission to the City, speaking out against a potential lack of privacy and fencing, he said.

The complainant even sent in pictures—which you can see in the agenda—of a messy yard and lots of vehicles (including a school bus) and said this disarray has been an issue for some time.

Still, they didn’t get their way and the application passed.

The offending yard on Airport Road. (Source: City Agenda, 11 April 2022.)

Construction Signs Ltd. secured a $70,804.12 (HST included) contract to establish a standing offer agreement for the supply and delivery of traffic equipment on an as and when required basis. The contract is for two years but the values are only the cost for one year. There were two other bidders for the work, Fortran Traffic Systems ($72,893.90) and Electromega Ltd. ($86,899.75).

New Brunswick-based MetalFab Fire Trucks secured a $248,000 (HST excluded) contract for the replacement of a walk around Dodge 5500 Fire Rescue Unit that was involved in a March 2022 accident, where it was damaged beyond repair.

Cllr Carl Ridgeley was happy to say one of the firefighters is back to work and the other is on the mend.

Uneasy Easements

Council then voted to approve the expropriation of an easement at 4 Dartmouth Place.

“The Water and Wastewater Division has brought it to the attention of the Legal Department that there is existing underground infrastructure running between 2 and 4 Dartmouth Place,” said Cllr Ian Froude. “The Legal Department has negotiated with the owner of 2 Dartmouth (Place) to secure this easement, however the owners of 4 Dartmouth Place have yet to respond.” 

The required easement area is 449.93 square feet and it’s been valued at $1.50 per square foot, so the compensation amount is $674.89. That total is subject to acceptance by the property owners, plus the City will pay reasonable legal fees, he said.

4 Dartmouth Place. (Source: City Agenda, 11 April 2022.)

Council approved the expropriation of an easement at 389 Bay Bulls Road for the installation of a sewage force main.

The City’s legal department has been in negotiations with the owners over the installation of a sewage force main under their parking lot. Work is expected to start either in May or June, said Cllr Ridgeley.

The required easement area is 2,142.02 square feet and has been valued at $3.50 per square foot, which means the owner would be compensated with $7,497.07—though the owners are still looking at the offer. However, this potential delay could put the City in a bind, because it may leave the City open to delay claims by the contractor, explained Cllr Ridgeley.

Cllr Ridgeley cited an email with Deputy City Manager of Finance & Administration Derek Coffey that mentioned this property and he asked if Council could defer it for a week until they can look at this further. This property is also wrapped up in a few other properties the City is looking at, he said.

City Solicitor Cheryl Mullett clarified this was the expropriation of an easement, not of the property.

“So it’s [about] a right to access the property, not to take the property itself,” said Mullett. As well, she said they have been given instructions to try and expedite this because the project starts in the next couple of months, which is why it’s on the agenda now.

Mayor Breen then asked Cllr Ridgeley if he would like to make a motion to defer it, who responded that if the negotiations were going to continue, he had no problem moving forward if Council wanted to vote on it, adding he would be voting against it. 

There was momentary confusion if the decision had been deferred, with Cllr Ridgeley asking if negotiations would continue.

Mayor Breen said this is the expropriation of an easement, which is required for the work that’s going to be completed down the road.

Deputy City Manager of Planning, Engineering & Regulatory Services Jason Sinyard added if negotiations take longer than they had in mind, he suggested they proceed with the decision.

“If and when we get to the point when we’re going to purchase a property, if there’s an easement acquired, we would just deduct that from whatever dollar amount was settled on for purchase,” said Mr. Sinyard. “But I don’t want to defer the easement so that it doesn’t have any impact on our project.”

Ultimately, the issue wasn’t deferred and it went to vote, with Cllr Ridgeley voting against it like he said he would.

389 Bay Bulls Road. (Source: City Agenda, 11 April 2022.)

City Land Sale Scrapes By

City owned land on Marconi Place has been approved for sale—but it was by a very slim margin with Cllrs Ridgeley, Ellsworth and Hickman voting against it.

The owner of 41 Parsonage Drive came to the City because he wanted to buy a parcel of City-owned land on Marconi Place, because it would allow him to access his property from Marconi Place with the plan for future development of this area, said Cllr Jill Bruce. 

Staff have valued the land at $3.50 per square foot and the area is approximately 3983 square feet, so the sale price comes in at $13,940.50 (plus HST and an administrative fee), she said. As well, the purchaser will be responsible for providing a survey that will determine the exact square footage.

“This sale will allow access to the undeveloped land, where staff have a development plan to be followed for the purpose of ensuring the best use of land which is owned by numerous landowners. The City may retain an easement for the purpose of a future Right of Way,” said Cllr Bruce.

Cllr Ellsworth said they’d just approved the expropriation for an easement for a sewer line for $3.50 a square foot—but the value here is lower, and Ellsworth argued it should be higher. So he wanted to know how the City evaluated the value of land.

City Solicitor Mullett said whenever they’re looking at property, they take their expert opinion from its paralegal, who is an expert in evaluations and is experienced. So they look at property roles, easement or similar types of instruments in the area, and look at their own transactions.

She said it’s a process where they try to determine the fair market value for whatever they’re purchasing or disposing of.

Cllr Ellsworth then said he wouldn’t support it, and was later joined by Cllrs Hickman and Ridgeley.

Marconi Place. (Source: City Agenda, 11 April 2022.)

More Money for Summer Students

Summer student staff are getting a long awaited pay bump!

Council voted to approve of the proposed wage increases for casual summer positions. Now the lowest amount a summer student can be paid is $15 an hour.

“The City of St. John’s has not applied any wage increases to our casual positions since 2015. At that time, minimum wage was $10.50/hr. The minimum wage in NL has increased several times since 2015 and now sits at $13.20/hr,” said Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary.

“As summer recruitment approaches, the Department of Community Services and Human Resources have reviewed the rates for positions supporting the summer programs. These have been compared with those of other municipalities and community organizations in the region, some of which are currently offering a slightly higher rate than the City of St. John’s. Living wage considerations were also factored into this review.”

She added she was pleased to see these changes come forward.

At the top, the head lifeguard will go from making $17.65 an hour to $18, whereas the recreation counsellor assistant—the lowest paying summer job—will go from $10.50 to $15.

The Go Round

Mayor Breen led it off by announcing that City Council has approved a new structure for the St. John’s Sports and Entertainment board of directors.

“That’ll improve the board’s decision-making autonomy and independence from St. John’s City Council,” he said.

The board’s chair will now be occupied by a person who was elected by the other board members—as opposed to being appointed. As well, the Council representative on the board will be an ex-officio role, so non-voting.

There will now only be one City staff member on the board, and that will be Deputy City Manager of Finance & Administration Derek Coffey—who will also be ex-officio.

Mayor Breen said he was pleased to see these changes. He’s been interim chair since late 2021. Stephen Dinn will now be chair and the vice chair is Greg Fleming. There are now three vacancies on the board that will be advertised, Breen said.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary mentioned an event that took place on Thursday, the Building Healthy Community Awards, which is a collaboration between the City and the university. She thanked the recipients and other volunteers.

She also said the Applause Awards’ nominations are now closed and the ceremony will take place on May 10 at the Convention Centre.

Cllr Ellsworth also spoke about the changes coming to St. John’s Sports and Entertainment and thanked the Mayor for his work and Dinn for stepping into the role of chair.

Cllr Debbie Hanlon said nominations for the Senior of the Year awards are now closed and applications are being reviewed.

As well, spring recreation programs for seniors are now open and classes include dance, photography, and music, among many others.

Cllr Ophelia Ravencroft was present at Council and said she’d once again tout the housing catalyst fund, which had its deadline for applications extended to April 15. Grants to fund projects addressing the affordable housing supply in the City can go up to $30,000.

She also acknowledged Passover is coming up and wanted to thank those in the community who help assist Jewish life, like bringing in speciality foods.

Cllr Ridgeley also advised people that construction work on the Gould’s Main Road starts tomorrow and buses will be traveling along the route, so there will be delays. So if you can take another route, please do, he advised.

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Elizabeth Whitten is a St. John's-based journalist and The Independent's St. John's municipal politics reporter. She's previously worked for allNewfoundlandLabrador and Downhome Magazine, and her work has been published by CBC, The Overcast, and the Toronto Star. She's currently writing a book about how Dr. Cluny Macpherson invented the gas mask in World War One.